Everything I need to know I learned at Vacation Bible School

IMG_0962My first memories of Vacation Bible School have to do with juice and goldfish. The juice that came in a metal can and had to be opened with something my mom referred to as a “church key”? That was what it cost to go to VBS back in my day. For a can of juice and a box of goldfish you got a morning of learning about Jesus. The church where I grew up had this cobblestone courtyard between the buildings, and as soon as we turned in our goods, we were ushered into that courtyard and told to find a seat. It was there with the early morning summer humidity falling over us like a blanket that I learned what it meant to sing.

Every year these same two ladies with their guitars would gather all of us kids around, those oddly cold cobblestones underneath our crisscrossed legs, and lead us in song. We sang silly songs, loud songs, quiet songs; songs about a God who loved us and who came to be with us. And my heart was forever changed by those tunes.

They became the voice of a Jesus who seemed present right there between the old stones of that church building. It must have been then that I became a fan of this crazy week we call Vacation Bible School because I can’t remember a summer since that I have missed it.

And now, many years later, my own little church has been bursting at the seams all week with our version of Vacation Bible School. And when I read this article about the effects of VBS on its volunteers, I laugh right out loud because seriously –  VBS PTSD is a real thing. There is no tired quite like the Friday of VBS tired. But there is also no better way to be reminded of how God works than by spending a week making VBS happen.

You see, there are some qualities about God that you can only learn during Vacation Bible School.  My favorite might be the reminder that God’s love is loud. Really loud. On regular weeks, I can fall into this trap of thinking that God likes it quiet. I can begin to think that in those moments where life turns up the volume and things get a little crazy that God takes a back seat. Wrong! God does loud.

When our gym is packed to the gills with screaming, singing, dancing kids, God is right there in the middle. And he is glorified.

And those songs that get stuck in your head. The bee-bop ones about God’s plans for you (Whoa, oha oh,oh oh). And the silly hand motions you never can remember. Yeah, God loves it all. And so does my heart. I watch all those kids sing about their Savior and I am brought back to the days in that church courtyard where I first learned that God loves the sound of our voices lifted up to him, together.

Together. God also loves for us to be together. Nothing reminds me of this more than Vacation Bible School. In our everyday life, it can be easy for us to think that we can do everything on our own. But not Vacation Bible School. No one person can make VBS happen. No one person can do all that needs to be done to make a week like this possible. And when I look around at our church family; the young, the old, the middle aged, the teenagers all decked out in VBS staff shirts, my heart feels like it might burst.

The snack people hurriedly setting out the pudding, the music people joyfully dancing on the stage, the chair stackers, the set painters, the poster hangers, the teachers,  the  recreation leaders and crazy skit members all doing their thing, and I am reminded of how God works through us when we are together.

I am reminded of the stories that Paul tells in the book of Acts about the early church. About how as they came together as a church, each bringing their own gifts, they prospered and God was glorified.

Eugene Peterson puts it like this as he interprets Paul’s words in The Message, “They were permeated with a deep sense of reverence for God. The Holy Spirit was with them. They prospered wonderfully.” Acts 9:31

Yeah, that’s what it feels like as we work shoulder to shoulder to open our doors and love on God’s people, like the Holy Spirit is right there with us.

The kids sing about God’s great faithfulness at the top of their lungs and about the plans God has for them. And God carries it over into my real life outside of these church hallways.

That real life where I have to do hard things. That real life where things seem uncertain and unsure. God reminds me that he stands there too. He shows up in loud and obvious ways on Vacation Bible School stages and in courtyards full of guitar music so that when I stand in quiet places with my heart a little broken and my shoulders a little slumped; when I stand shaken and sad, I can know that he is there too.

And the words fall over me as the kids sing: “Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.” I hear it like this:

I am right here. Walking with you. You see it here during VBS. But you need to remember it daily. I am faithful and present and loud and real. I do know these plans I have for you and they are for good and not for evil.  Turn your eyes towards me and look; you will find me everywhere.

The music fades and we pray over the kids before they rush out the doors into the rest of their summer days. And it is a prayer that we all need every day.

May God be present and real and loud in your day and may you know that he loves you as much in the quiet and hard as he does in the singing and the laughing.

And to VBS volunteers everywhere — kick up your feet and rest well! You are God’s hands and feet in ways you may never even know this side of heaven. Oh, but good- luck getting those VBS songs out of your head (whoa, oh! oh! oh!)



One Comment on “Everything I need to know I learned at Vacation Bible School

  1. Hi,
    The thing I loved most about VBS was making fake stained glass windows. We cut the design from tar paper, glued it to a sheet of glass, and then painted in the design. I remember my design as a tall cross in the middle of two shorter ones, all surrounded by flowers.
    PTL the Holy Spirit was even working within me when I was eight. Wow–what a long time ago.

    Dr. Tim–this was a beautiful message I just read about VBS- I enjoyed it a lot.

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